Can a little aspirin make a big difference?

JAN 18, 2017
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From stem cells to gene therapy, it can seem like medicine is getting more complex all the time. So if you’re at high risk for heart attack and stroke, it’s reassuring to know there’s a simple step you can take to help prevent heart disease.


In April 2016, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found that taking a low-dose aspirin (formerly known as baby aspirin) can help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke for people at high risk. The Task Force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine.


Important: Aspirin is not safe for everyone. Even if you don’t think you’d be at risk for aspirin-related complications, make sure you talk with your doctor before taking aspirin, especially if you plan to take it daily.*


Heart disease: a common, deadly foe


Heart disease causes serious health problems, including potentially fatal or disabling issues like heart attack and stroke. Together, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in the United States. In 2014, almost half of all deaths in the U.S. were caused by these 2 conditions.


Risk factors and what you can do


Many factors can add to your risk for heart disease, including:


  • Getting older
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Having diabetes
  • A history of smoking

Quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and being physically active can reduce your risk. These choices also help control blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. This lowers your risk for not only heart disease, but other conditions as well.


The Task Force study on low-dose aspirin


Aspirin is well-known as an inexpensive, over-the-counter medicine used to relieve pain, fever, and swelling. It also helps to prevent blood from clotting. Low-dose aspirin comes in an 81-milligram dose ideal for daily use.


Over the course of their 2016 study, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force studied the effects of taking low-dose aspirin for the prevention of certain conditions. They found that daily use can help prevent heart attack and stroke in people who are 50 to 70 years old with an increased risk of heart disease.


Note: If you are younger than 50 or older than 70, the results of this study won’t apply to you. The study didn’t find enough evidence to make a recommendation one way or another for your age group. If you still want to take low-dose aspirin daily, make sure you talk with your doctor first.


Who should avoid aspirin


It’s important to remember that aspirin can also be harmful, especially to those with an increased risk of bleeding.* Because aspirin keeps blood from clotting, it can increase the risk of bleeding in the stomach, intestines, and brain. These risks are small for adults up to 59 years old, but they can increase in people over the age of 60.


Aspirin can also worsen blood-clotting disorders in people with certain conditions, like von Willebrand disease. If you have a blood disorder that affects your ability to clot, talk to your doctor before taking aspirin for any reason.


Ask your doctor if low-dose aspirin is right for you


When deciding whether a daily, low dose of aspirin would be safe and effective for you, you and your doctor should talk about:


  • Your personal health history
  • Your lifestyle choices, such as exercise and nutrition
  • Any recent lab results
  • Your risk of having a heart attack or stroke
  • Your risk of having an aspirin-related side effect such as bleeding

Learn more about heart disease and what you can do to stay healthy.


* There are many conditions that can increase your risk of a serious bleeding problem, such as having had a previous bleeding ulcer or bleeding into the brain. Certain medications may increase your bleeding risk, such as blood thinners (like Coumadin), steroid medications (like prednisone), and pain relievers (including the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) ibuprofen (found in Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (found in Aleve). People over the age of 70 are also at increased risk of bleeding.


Health, United States, 2015: With Special Feature on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, Table 19, p. 121, National Center for Health Statistics, 2016.


TOPICSbaby aspirincardiac healthheart attack preventionHeart Health